Thursday, July 10, 2014

UPDATED 10/21/14 > Dinosaur Track Defendant Pleads Guilty and is Sentenced to PRPA Charge in Utah Federal Court

A federal district court in Utah has accepted a guilty plea from a man accused of violating the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA).

UPDATED > 10/21/14: Judge Dale A. Kimball on October 20, 2014 sentenced Jared Ehlers to one year of probation, including 6 months house arrest, and restitution of $15,090.44, payable at $500 per month.

A grand jury in March indicted 35 year old Jared Ehlers for taking a three-toed dinosaur track from a trail near Moab and then discarding the ancient footprint. Federal prosecutors accused the construction company owner of violating PRPA as well as stealing public property, damaging federal property, and destroying evidence.

Ehlers pleaded guilty yesterday to the PRPA crime. In exchange, the U.S. Attorneys' Office dropped the rest of the charges.

As part of the swiftly concluded plea agreement reached with the defendant's lawyer, prosecutors will recommend a sentence that includes one year of probation, six months home confinement (which allows for the defendant to leave home for work), and $15,090.44 in restitution costs. 

The restitution amount reflects the expense incurred by the Grand County Sheriff's Office and the Utah Department of Safety, whose officers unsuccessfully searched the Colorado River for the 190 million year old dinosaur track discarded by the defendant.

The defendant admitted to several facts in papers filed with the court on Wednesday, including the following:
a. On or about February 17, 2014, I knowingly excavated and removed a paleontological resource, to wit: a 150 pound rock containing a trace fossil of a three-toed dinosaur track 
b. from the Sand Flats Recreation Area which is located on public lands administered by the United States Bureau of Land Management; and 
c. that the value of the paleontological resource, together with the cost of its restoration and repair exceeded $500. 
d. On or about March 3, 2014, I knowingly concealed and covered up the paleontological resource by throwing it into the Colorado River. 
The case of U.S. v. Ehlers might be the first direct, non-conspiracy conviction under PRPA, a law that took effect just five years ago.

One should still take note of the groundbreaking case of U.S. v. Franz, involving a stolen ivory mammoth tusk from Alaska. That case resulted in convictions in 2012 for both conspiracy and theft of government property. The conspiracy conviction explicitly referenced the unauthorized removal of a paleontological resource under PRPA and resulted in a sentence that included a $100,000 fine.

Other known cases have cited PRPA, but they have not resulted in direct convictions under that statute. In 2011 the U.S. Attorney in Utah pursued the case of United States v. Cowan, a PRPA prosecution that also involved the unlawful taking of a dinosaur track. Prosecutors ultimately dismissed the charge on March 12, 2013 after the defendant satisfied a pre-trial diversion program, according to court records. And in the companion case to U.S. v. Franz known as U.S. v. Jettmar, a grand jury originally charged Franz's co-conspirator with a PRPA count, but the defendant entered a plea agreement resulting in a misdemeanor conviction under a separate criminal statue.

The federal district court is expected to sentence Ehlers at a hearing scheduled for October 20.

Photo credit: Wilson Souza

By Rick St. Hilaire Text copyrighted 2010-2014 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.